Coming to our galaxy fall of 2019, Special Topics: Star Wars will focus on the popular films’ storytelling techniques and is open to all majors.
There are few films that have stood the test of time the way Star Wars has. It’s spawned countless movies, TV shows, video games, comic books, and even a theme park coming soon to Orlando. And now, you can add a class at UCF to that list.
This fall, travel to a galaxy far, far away by enrolling in CRW 3930. Open to all majors, the 3-credit course offered by the Department of English will teach students about the creative writing techniques of the Star Wars universe, from worldbuilding and plot templates to how even non-traditional media — like Star Wars candy and clothing — can tell a story.
“I’m fascinated by Star Wars and its ability to tell stories through all different forms of media,” says Peter Telep, the professor who created the course. “So, I wanted to explore not just the movies but also things like the old Star Wars radio dramas, trading cards, board games, podcasts and Discord channels.”
The Idea Awakens
To teach a class about such a beloved franchise, it makes sense for the professor to be a superfan himself — and Telep is definitely that. In his office, he has shelves of Star Wars action figures, a replica of the Millennium Falcon spaceship, and even a photo of him and Mark Hamill — the actor who played protagonist Luke Skywalker — blown up on his wall.
“I think I saw The Empire Strikes Back 13 times when it came out,” says Telep.
So, it’s no surprise that Telep has long dreamed of creating a Star Wars course. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s been involved in a course with pop culture themes. With digital media professor Rudy McDaniel, he has been teaching a video game design course in the Burnett Honors College for years, which spun off into a Writing for Video Games class that Telep teaches in fall and spring.
But it wasn’t until recently that Telep started doing research on what a Star Wars course could look like. He found a number of professors across the country with their own Star Wars courses, who he contacted for ideas and inspiration while developing the curriculum.
The Professor Strikes Back — Against Misconceptions
Telep spent a lot of time creating the course. The class structure, while simple, covers a lot of ground. There are three required textbooks that contain philosophical, historical and cultural readings of the Star Wars universe. And based on what they learn, students will work in groups to tell their own original Star Wars stories through multiple forms of media.
Even students who know every line of A New Hope shouldn’t expect to coast through the course. Take it from the movie quote-filled syllabus: “A heavy reading load, online discussion posts, a final exam, and a strict attendance policy will ensure that in this course we will do. Or do not. There is no try.”
While the course was designed for creative writers and fans of Star Wars, Telep says he wants non-English majors and casual moviegoers to give the course a chance. That’s why he encourages students to bring what they want to the course. Not much of a writer? Do your group project as an outline instead of a full-blown story. Don’t know the difference between an AT-AT and an AT-ST? That’s OK, you don’t need to be a Star Wars expert.
“The class isn’t just about Star Wars. It’s about the craft of writing, with Star Wars as the full universe that we’re going to explore,” says Telep. “We’re going to look at the history, the arguments regarding Star Wars, and then specifically at the Hero’s Journey.”
By “Hero’s Journey,” Telep means the common story pattern of a hero going on an adventure, winning a victory and coming home transformed — a trope clearly present in the Star Wars films. This creative writing technique is challenging even for English majors to master, but that doesn’t mean non-English majors can’t learn how to use it.
“Those who aren’t creative writers but wanted to take a fun class will — I hope — gain a deeper appreciation for not just how much work it is to be a creative writer, but also how cool Star Wars is.”
A New Hope That Students Will Enjoy the Class
While there is work to be done, Telep still wants his students to have fun. He plans to spend two class periods watching one of the films as voted on by the class. He will also present on some of the more controversial films in the series, such as The Phantom Menace and The Last Jedi.
“Students that want to do some critical analysis of the Star Wars universe — and maybe do some venting about how they would fix or rewrite it — will get their chance,” he says.
Telep says feedback will be a big part of the class. Through polls and discussions, he hopes to gauge how the class is feeling and make changes based on the responses.
“It won’t always be my way or the highway,” says Telep. “It’ll be more like, ‘What do you guys want to do? We’re all Star Wars fans — let’s have some fun!’”
So, go forth and enroll today, Jedi Knights. And may the force be with you!
Class Name: CRW 3930 – Special Topics: Star Wars
Description: The course will study storytelling techniques such as worldbuilding and characterization, as well as how Star Wars puts these techniques to use through different media.
Instructor: Peter Telep — UCF English graduate, two-time Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award winner, and Star Wars fan since 1977
When is it offered? Fall
How many students in the class? Maximum of 70